Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Abebe Bikila Day International Peace Half Marathon - 9/11/10

About Abebe Bikila

The alarm goes off at 4:30am, and I stumble out of bed wondering why I signed up for this race, a mere 12 days after I finished the 15in15. I've been running slow for so long, I didn't even know if I could run faster than 11-12 minute miles. But I guess that really was the reason I signed up - to see how much speed I had lost. After a quick check on the directions, I headed down to Georgetown in DC. I had plugged in the address in my GPS, but it always sends me a different way than Mapquest. Which to use? Finally, after passing several exits that the GPS tells me to take and listening to it say "re-routing" 100 times, I decide to trust it and listen to the GPS "lady" tell me how to get there. She brought me right to an open parking space. The next challenge was trying to figure out the machine to pay for parking. Several runners were standing around the machine trying to make it work. One even went and got pliers out of his car, so that he could extract a stuck credit card. Then we realized that the machine wouldn't work until 7am and it was 6:56. We all stared blankly at the machine for a few minutes; finally I decided that I could run up and get my race packet and be back in time to feed the meter. That done, I need to find a bathroom. It turns out the only one available was in an open air cafe on M Street. That's the problem - it's one bathroom for 100+ men, and one for 100+ women. By now, it's about 15 minutes to race start and there are about 10 women in front of me. I calculate approximately 1 minute per person and I should have 5 minutes to spare.

When I get to the starting area, Jay Jacob Wind, the race director is just getting ready to ring a small bell 184 times in memory of those who lost their lives at the Pentagon on 9/11. The crowd was hushed as we listened and counted. Jay Wind ran with me on Day 3 of the 15 in 15 for the last 7-8 miles. He was a great help that day because he knew the area and could get my crew to the next stop.

After the bell-ringing ceremony, somebody else said a few words but I couldn't hear him (I think he was an Olympic boxer). Then they played the Star Spangled Banner and we were set to go! There was no chip timing, and the starting line was very crowded because we were running completely on the C&O towpath. A whistle blew to start the race, but I couldn't hear that either, but we were slowly moving towards the start line. I figured I had started my Garmin about 5 seconds after the official clock, which I wanted to keep in mind as I got towards the finish. Plus I had to add the extra distance that I was starting behind the line.

My goals for this race were basically to finish uninjured and to see if I could run it in under 2 hrs. I knew a PR was probably out of reach (I would have had to run faster than 1:53:45) so I didn't even set my sights on that. As I finally made it on the trail, it was very crowded and my claustrophobia kicked in. Get me out of here! I began to weave in and out of people to try to make room so I could run my pace. Splits for the first three miles were: 9:00, 8:51, 8:48. That was about right where I wanted to be, I was hoping to bank a little time before I hit the halfway point and headed back to the finish. It finally cleared out and I seemed comfortable with my pace. People were passing me, and I was still passing others. Everyone was trying to get in their happy running zone. I passed by the first water stop, again trying to make time, and because it was a nice cool morning. Miles 4-6: 8:49, 9:01, 8:46. At the mile 5 water stop I grabbed a quick drink and kept moving. I was watching my pace pretty close and when I began to feel pretty comfortable running, I would look down at my watch and say "Drat, I'm slowing down," then pick the pace up. The good thing about an out and back race is that you get to see who is ahead of you, and when you turn the corner, you get to see who is behind you. The bad part is the trail gets a little crowded for a while. Because there were other people out doing their morning run or bike ride, or walk, it was hard to tell who was in the race and who wasn't.

The course is dirt, the ground is fairly even, but every now and then it gets a little rocky or uneven, so I spent a lot of time looking at my feet. On one side is the canal filled with green water; on the other side is the river but you can't see it. We parallel the Capital Crescent Trail for most of the race, every now and then you could see people running and biking on that trail. As I neared the turn around, the last 1/2 mile seemed to take forever. The course was pretty much flat, but I could tell I was on one of the small inclines that you only notice when you are running hard. In my head I was saying "Only 6.5 miles to go! You can do anything for 6.5 miles." I glanced at the Garmin and  I think it read 59 minutes and change. "Don't give up! You can still make it under 2 if you just keep pushing." By this time I had been trading leads with a man in a white t-shirt. He was ahead of me now and I decided to latch on to him and try to get him to pull me in under 2. I pushed the pace as much as I could and moved to be next to him, then I got ahead of him. "Keep pushing," I tell myself. Then he comes back and passes me. I let him lead for a while, then slowly begin to pass him again. A couple of guys run by and see my Umstead 100 mile shirt that I'm wearing. "She's one of those 100 milers. This is a sprint for her," they say as they pass. I catch up to one of them in a blue t-shirt and he wants to know all about the 100 miler, where it was, how I trained for it, etc. I'm huffing and puffing and trying to talk. Finally, I have to back off the pace a little bit. He wants to know where we are so I call out the mileage every now and then.  I drop behind him, and now white shirt is passing me so I stick to his heels. Mile splits 7-10: 9:14, 8:54, 9:19, 9:03. At one point we crest a hill and white shirt slows down. He's looking for the aid station, but it's down the trail a little further. I pass him and take my time at the aid station, walking through - my slowest mile 9:36. I'm getting tired. But with two miles to go I take off, realizing I still have a chance to make the two hours. I pass blue shirt and don't see him again. A few people pass me, including this girl who I've passed a couple of times before and another girl who is probably doing intervals. I'm trying to pass people too. Mile 12: 9:19. At about one mile, white shirt catches up to me and passes. I need to stay on his heels. Can I make it? I don't know how close my Garmin miles is to race miles (no mile markers were out). I pass 13 miles (9:17) and I'm seeing the city limits. I hear cheering and people's voices. The finish line! Push hard! I see the clock and I push across in 1:59:25! Did it! (last .17 at an 8:29 pace). Jay announces me as the woman who ran 26 marathons in 26 days. Well, not quite that much, but it sounds good!

I get my medal, talk to a guy who runs ultras for a while, grab a banana and a drink and stretch. I decide to wait for the awards ceremony, mainly because I'm trying to decide where and how much extra mileage I want to do. I really didn't expect to win anything, but because it was a small race, you never know. Lo and behold, he calls my name as 3rd place in the 40-49 age group! Jay has already assumed I've gone to run more miles, but I accept my $25 gift certificate and tell him I might run the course again. A guy standing there is shocked that I would even think about it. However, when I get to running again, my hamstrings are really tight. I decide to try out the Capital Crescent Trail. It's crowded! I only make it 7 more miles with the tight hammies, plus I have some shopping to do and a night at Wolf Trap.

This race was good for me to put everything in perspective. The good is I maintained a more consistent pace than I have in previous races. Usually by the last few miles I'm a good minute off pace, having started a good minute over pace. I felt mentally stronger in making myself keep the pace going when I started to get tired, thanks in part to white t-shirt (I did introduce myself after the race and we talked, he was pacing off of me too and he felt we actually did a good job of sharing the load, but I can't remember his name for the life of me). The reality is that I know I can't maintain that pace for another 13 miles, which is what I would need to do in order to BQ (Boston Qualify). The McMillan pace calculator has me doing a marathon in 4:11, which would still be a PR, but I don't think I'm going to try at Marine Corps. I know what I have to do - nutrition and getting back to what I call "race weight" will get me where I want to be. And a good marathon course that I can focus on the prize (not Marine Corps). So I'm setting a goal for 2011. This morning while working out in my gym, I was reviewing my goal cards. I have 3x5 cards with all my goals on them. I say them aloud and have a scripture that correlates to the goal. Isaiah 40:31 really stuck out this morning. "Those that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up as with wings of eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint." I need to wait on the Lord. I need to be patient and he will show me what to do next. And He will give me the strength to do it.

Race Stats:
3rd in age group (40-49)
39 out of 132 women
113 out of 269 overall

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